Piquancy, the “spiciness” associated with the capsaicin from
chile peppers, doesn’t get much play in mixed drinks here in the United States
outside of being an addition of novelty (oh look, a spicy Daiquiri!). This is a
shame, for two main reasons:
- Piquancy can shift the emphasis of the
progression of flavors in a drink, from bolstering an initial taste to
extending the finish. In this way, the heat from peppers can positively affect
the overall satisfaction a person might receive from their drinking experience
- Chiles are a wide world of mostly untapped
flavors, from the tropical fruit tones of habaneros to deep smoke from moritas
to chocolate and dark fruit anchos. Different chiles tend to lend themselves
very well to a wide variety of pairings with many different spirits.
With these in mind, let’s take a look at three different
chiles, their relative qualities, and finally, an application for each in a
At the lower end of the piquancy spectrum, ancho chiles (the
dried form of poblanos) tend to provide a short burst of moderate heat near the
beginning of a cocktail’s progression of flavors. More excitingly, they provide
a host of deep, dark, chocolate and dried fruit flavors; think cocoa nibs,
figs, plums, and the like.
These chiles are ideal for use in a syrup: Break one large
ancho chile into small pieces, including the seeds in an infusion into eight
ounces of near-boiling water for 6 minutes (An important note: boiling chiles
extract more of their “spice,” and is rarely necessary; a fine balance of
flavors is achieved by steeping them as a tisane instead of boiling). Strain
out the ancho-infused water, and stir to combine with an equal measure of sugar
and a pinch of salt.
Use this syrup in an old-fashioned with aged rum, rye
whiskey, or añejo tequila, complementing with Angostura, orange, or
chocolate bitters. The ancho chile will both add levity to the usually syrupy
intro as well as a deeply flavorful finish.
Increasing in piquancy, moritas (the dried, smoked form of
jalapeños) provide a kick of spice from the late middle into finish of a
cocktail, making them a beautiful match with acidity to bolster the finish of a
sour cocktail. Moderate smoke and moderate spice tends to make these chiles
imply a sort of savoriness as well, which pairs beautifully with spirits which
have a touch of oaked sweetness.
Using these chiles in an alternate acidic preparation I call
an aqua agrumes, we will substitute the final product for lemon or lime juice
in a Sour. Split two morita chiles in half, steeping them in eight ounces of
near-boiling water for 5 minutes before straining. Add two teaspoons of a
vintner’s acid blend (citric, malic and tartaric acid powders; readily
available at homebrew supply stores or online) and a small pinch of salt to
this morita-infused water, stirring to incorporate.
Combine 2 oz of rye whiskey, .75 oz of a light brown sugar
syrup, and .75 oz of this morita agrumes, shaking and double-straining up into
a coupe. The morita chile provides an accentuation of the rye whiskey’s natural
spice, making for a one-two punch of flavor from beginning to end.
The most potent of chiles in this selection, habaneros give
an immediate burst of heat with a diminishing linger. Acidity is almost
necessary to balance these, and sweetness pairs well with the tropical fruit
nature of these hot and flavorful chiles. This makes them a beautiful match for
Infuse the chiles into high-proof alcohol to create a
tincture; slice two habaneros into thin rings before infusing into eight ounces
of 190-proof grain alcohol, either by cooking sous vide for 12 minutes at 120
degrees Fahrenheit or steeping for 3 days, shaking occasionally.
A few dashes of this tincture seem tailor-made for Jeff
Berry’s “Planet of the Apes:” Build 1 oz dark Jamaican rum, .5 oz amber
151-proof rum (Cruzan,
etc.), 1 oz pineapple juice, 1 oz orange juice, .75 oz crème de banana, .5 oz
lime juice, and 3 dashes of our habanero tincture in a shaker tin, fill with
ice, shake well, and pour unstrained into a tall glass, garnishing with any
flower, umbrella, or sea creature is within reach.
Chiles provide a wide variety of flavors to incorporate into
cocktails; the three listed above are a great start. Consider each chile for
use in a syrup, agrumes, and tincture, and a whole world of possibilities open
up with each! A parting word: Please always keep in mind to inform a person of
the relative heat of a chile in a mixed drink; too much can certainly be an
unpleasant experience. Sip cautiously (at first), and then enjoy! Until next
Read more from Editorial.